Barroso comes to Armenia’s aid: EPP Summit “saves” Armenia’s modest guest list in 2012

Barroso comes to Armenia’s aid: EPP Summit “saves” Armenia’s modest guest list in 2012

Photolure

While Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and his foreign minister have traveled around the world extensively in 2012, they don’t seem to have played host to many senior guests in their own country during the year.


Hosting European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and neighboring Georgia’s leader attending a major European summit in Yerevan these days is rather an exception that proves what has been a rule for Armenia recently.

Pridents Serzh Sargsya welcomes President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov (right)
Meanwhile, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, the authoritarian leader of Turkmenistan, a Central Asian country rich in natural gas resources, has been the highest guest to pay an official visit to Armenia (November 29-30) as head of state so far this year.

Critics say this situation shows the failure of Armenia’s foreign policy to maintain balance despite assurances to the contrary from the country’s top diplomats and political leadership.

Before Berdimuhamedov the last time Yerevan hosted a head of state was in December 2011 when Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paid a short visit that had been delayed several times before that. Earlier, in October 2011, the then president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, visited Armenia ahead of his reelection bid in an apparent move to win the favors of his country’s sizable ethnic Armenian community.

Even the summit of the leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a defense pact of six post-Soviet countries led by allied Russia, did not take place in Yerevan despite its announcement for September. It was preceded by talk that presidents of the member states would arrive in Yerevan to observe the CSTO military exercise.

There are several possible reasons for presidents of other countries to be reluctant to visit Armenia, including because the country is marginalized in terms of its participation in major international political and economic projects. But the main factor appears to be the changing foreign policy orientation of the South Caucasus country.

President Sargsyan stubbornly insists on a policy of European integration, which itself assumes reduction of contacts at the level of post-Soviet countries. This is what Russia and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States can clearly see now. In his recent comments one senior Russian Foreign Ministry official even made a reference to Armenia as a country with aspirations to integrate with the European Union and NATO. It is this new orientation that experts say may have played a role in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “cancelling” his visit to Armenia in 2012 despite a number of announcements made about his plans. (Official Moscow and Yerevan denied any official plans for such a visit). Meanwhile, during the days of the CSTO exercises in Armenia when Putin’s visit was expected the country was unexpectedly visited by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Member of the Council of the Federation of the Russian Federal Assembly Nikolay Ryzhkov told reporters in Yerevan on Thursday that Putin was likely to visit Armenia in 2013, but he did not name any dates. The visit of France’s new president Francois Hollande to Armenia in 2013 was announced during President Sargsyan’s visit to Paris earlier this month. And 2012 would remain the year of “the Turkmen president’s visit” except for the Eastern Partnership Summit of the European People’s Party, which is scheduled to open in Yerevan today, November 30. The summit will be attended by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of Georgia, Mikhail Sakashvili, and others.

Still, it does not remove questions regarding the efficiency of Armenia’s foreign policy as many in Armenia criticize the foreign minister for taking unnecessary trips to distant countries that do not hold out any big prospects of interesting projects, attraction of investments or generate political interest otherwise.

And vice versa, critics insist that visits to Armenia by leaders of countries like Turkmenistan, Belarus and other “rogue” states do not contribute to Armenia’s image and reputation in the world.

This impression could have been leveled if, for instance, Armenia and Turkmenistan announced the conclusion of some fundamental agreement. But no such agreement was announced, after all. Instead, Yerevan State University (YSU) awarded Turkmenistan’s authoritarian leader with the title of Honorary Doctor. Iran’s Ahmadinejad also received an honorary doctorate from YSU in 2007.